Biofuels producers: No really, this is the year biofuels are going to take off, for serious
posted at 6:01 pm on April 16, 2014 by Erika Johnsen
I mentioned the other day that, to the detriment of just about everyone involved, the Environmental Protection Agency is still considering whether or not they really will follow through with their proposal to reduce the gasoline-ethanol blending volumes required by the Renewable Fuel Standard, first enacted by 2007, to avoid running the oil industry up against the “blend wall” (the ten percent ethanol threshold beyond which a lot of cars and trucks on the road won’t be able to cope with the biofueled gas). Big Ethanol, of course, has been complaining that this is just a load of waffle invented by Big Oil to artificially stymie competition — but people in glass houses really shouldn’t be in the business of throwing stones, you know? Via the NYT:
“It’s very frustrating,” said Christopher Standlee, executive vice president of Abengoa. “The whole purpose of the Renewable Fuel Standard was to encourage investment to create brand-new technologies that would help the United States become more energy-independent and use cleaner and more efficient fuels. We feel like we are just on the verge of doing that and now the E.P.A. is talking about changing the rules.” …
The energy act’s goal of reaching 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022 is now considered virtually unreachable, even by biofuel enthusiasts. “It would take an enormous effort of deploying capital and labor and engineering,” said Paul Winters, a spokesman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization. …
But biofuel producers and lobbyists say the country needs more of their product. “Cellulosic biofuel has the promise to deliver tens of billions of gallons of ethanol to the United States, but there needs to be a market for that,” Brian Foody, president and chief executive of the Canadian biofuel company Iogen, told reporters in a recent conference call by industry executives discussing the impact of the E.P.A. proposal. “We believe it’s critical for E.P.A. to create a segment or space in the market for E-85 to grow and to set numbers that will provide incentives.”
“There needs to be a market for that.” Yes, and since there obviously isn’t one, you need the federal government to artificially keep the fake one that’s already in place going.
But, this time, these biofuels producers are promising, they’re seriously super-duper close to developing the next best thing since sliced bread. Take this brand-new cellulosic ethanol plant they’re currently heralding as the wondrous future of biofuels:
But Abengoa, which received a $134 million loan guarantee from the Energy Department, will be first out of the gate, its plant beginning full operations by early May. The company plans to produce 25 million gallons of biofuel a year at the plant here and has already started a 21-megawatt electricity plant at the site powered by biomass.
Abengoa has developed a proprietary enzyme to mix with corn stalks and wheat straw to produce sugars that will then be fermented and distilled to produce cellulosic ethanol. That more efficient process can increase yields and decrease costs. Over the last four years, Abengoa has improved yields from 55 gallons of ethanol per ton of biomass to 80 gallons per ton.
You know what? Maybe Abengoa really will be all that and a bag of chips. …Or, maybe not, and it still won’t do nearly enough to make its product as attractive on its own competitive merits as other fuel sources. The point is, haven’t we “invested” quite enough taxpayer money and economic opportunity costs supporting costly and failed endeavors trying to find out?